“Inerting 170 Dahlgren and 6.4-inch Brooke projectiles” – Preserving artifacts recovered from the CSS Georgia

Operations recovering the CSS Georgia from the Savannah River continue to make the news cycles.  Last week the project posted video, photos, and information detailing the safe inerting of artillery projectiles recovered from the site:

Even 150 years old, those projectiles are dangerous.  We’ve visited that topic several times.  I’ll often hear folks discuss how these artifacts should be saved, yet very lightly deal with the dangerous nature of the still active munitions.  Almost as if with a wave of the hand the explosives could be rendered inert.  No, the inerting of those devices requires careful handling, by trained professionals using proper equipment.  We see that in the video.

MuniRem rinse

The crew blended older methods with new technology:

Driver's seat

And the result were safe, preserved artifacts that will help tell the story of the CSS Georgia.


The article adds, “Their abundance of caution was not unfounded, as the pair found dry black powder in an overwhelming majority of the projectiles.”  The team used MuniRem to chemically neutralize the black powder.

Row of Brookes

The projectiles included those for rifled guns – Brooke or guns modified by the Confederates during the war.  Also seen are shells for Dahlgren smoothbores:


Other photos show fuses.


Though with relatively small amounts of powder, even the fuses presented a safety hazard.  Nobody should lose a hand while “holding history in their hand.”

Again, I must applaud the work done by the Corps of Engineers and other organizations involved with the recovery of the CSS Georgia.


Summary Statement: December 31, 1862 – Indiana’s Batteries

Time now we look to the Hoosier Artillery as reported for December 1862.  Indiana organized twenty-six light batteries for Federal service during the war, all numbered and not within a regimental system.  Twenty-one of those Indiana batteries had entry lines on the December 1862 summary.  Of those, only seven had a posted date for receipt of returns.  I’ll focus on those seven, but mention the status of the other fourteen for our purposes today.  (And note, there was a 1st Indiana Heavy Artillery Regiment serving mostly with the Department of the Gulf, that falls outside the summaries.)

Of the seven batteries with data for the form, we see all posted late. Three were received in the spring of 1863.  Three more trickled in through the summer and fall.  Then the 2nd Indiana Battery’s was received in April 1864.  All must be considered when reviewing the data presented in the summary.


For the battery-by-battery breakdown, let us “fill in” the location and assignment for batteries without a report… just to round things out (Looking here for any patterns of the omissions).  And, for emphasis, these are all “Independent Light Artillery” batteries from Indiana, designated by sequential numbers:

  • 1st Battery: No report.  The battery was part of the short lived Army of Southeastern Missouri, operating in the Ironton area.
  • 2nd Battery: Springfield, Missouri. Three 6-pdr field guns and four James 3.80-inch rifles.  The battery was in the Army of the Frontier.
  • 3rd Battery: No report. Part of the Central District of Missouri and reported at both Rolla and St. Louis during the quarter.
  • 4th Battery: La Vernge or Lafayette (?), Tennessee.  Two 6-pdr field guns and two James 3.80-inch rifles.  The 4th was in the Right Wing, Army of the Cumberland, specifically, Sheridan’s Third Division.  The battery was in action at Stones River on December 31.  Captain Asahel Bush’s official report mentions the battery had one more cannon on hand – a field howitzer (12-pdr).  One 6-pdr and a James rifle were lost on the field.  And the other 6-pdr disabled. The battery fired 1,160 rounds in the battle.  Losses were six killed, seventeen wounded, and three captured or missing.
  • 5th Battery. No report. Was posted to Second Division (Johnson), Right Wing, Army of the Cumberland, and at Stones River.  Captain Peter Simonson mentioned two 10-pdr Parrotts and two 12-pdr Napoleons in his official report of the battle. The battery fired only 213 rounds in the battle but lost two guns.
  • 6th Battery. No report. The battery was in the multi-armed Thirteenth Corps and with McPherson’s Right Wing in northern Mississippi.
  • 7th Battery. Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  Four 10-pdr Parrotts.  The battery was in Van Cleve’s Third Division, Left Wing, Army of the Cumberland.  Captain George Swallow’s battery fired 406 rounds in the battle at Stones River, lost no guns, suffered four killed and eight wounded, along with losing one horse.
  • 8th Battery. No report.  First Division (Wood), Left Wing, Army of the Cumberland.  Lieutenant George Estep’s battery fired 871 rounds at Stones River.
  • 9th Battery. No report. Captain George Brown’s battery was assigned to Fourth Division, Right Wing, Thirteenth Corps.
  • 10th Battery: No report. Captain Jerome Cox’s battery was also assigned to First Division, Left Wing, Army of the Cumberland and at Stones River.   The battery fired 1,442 rounds during the battle.
  • 11th Battery: No report. Though assigned the Army of the Cumberland, this battery was part of the Nashville garrison.
  • 12th Battery: Fort Negley, Nashville, Tennesseee.  Annotated as “siege.”  Four 4.5-inch siege rifles.
  • 13th Battery: No report. Also annotated as a “siege” battery.  I have no particulars on this battery.  It was posted to Gallatin, outside Nashville, and some reports have it operating as cavalry.
  • 14th Battery:  Jackson, Tennessee.  Three 6-pdr field guns and one 3-inch Ordnance Rifle.  The battery was part of Thirteenth Corps at the time.
  • 15th Battery:  No report.  Had surrendered earlier in the fall at Harpers Ferry.  Was still on parole.
  • 16th Battery: Fort Pennsylvania, DC.  Three 20-pdr Parrotts and four James 3.80-inch rifles.  This battery spent most of the war defending Washington.
  • 17th Battery: No report. The 17th Battery was assigned to the Middle Department and the defenses of Baltimore.
  • 18th Battery: No report. Though assigned to the Center Wing, Army of the Cumberland, this battery was not at Stones River but rather supporting troops pursuing Confederates raiders.
  • 19th Battery:  (Illegible), Kentucky.  Four 12-pdr Napoleons and two 3-inch steel guns.  Also assigned to the Center Wing, the 19th was likewise active in pursuit of Confederate raiders at this time of the war.
  • 20th Battery: No report.  Assigned to the garrison of Henderson, Kentucky.
  • 21st Battery: No report. On duty at various locations in Kentucky.

Sorry for the lengthy interpretation, but a necessary listing for the purposes of these posts.  There are several batteries (particularly the 19th Indiana) that I’d like to discuss further. But for now let me save those for separate posts in the future.

Turning to smoothbore ammunition on hand:


Just three batteries reporting quantities:

  • 2nd Battery:  6-pdr field gun – 8 spherical case and 191 canister.
  • 4th Battery: 6-pdr field gun – 320 shot, 160 case, and 30 canister.
  • 14th Battery: 6-pdr field gun – 328 shot, 296 case, and 68 canister.

Rifled projectiles followed to the right of the smoothbore listings, with Hotchkiss patent types:


Three batteries reporting:

  • 2nd Battery: James 3.80-inch – 54 shot and 176 (?) bullet shell.
  • 14th Battery: 162 of Hotchkiss pattern 3-inch percussion shell.
  • 19th Battery: 3-inch rifle – 98 canister and 86 fuse shell.

Continuing to the columns for James and Parrott projectiles:


Two batteries with quantities on hand:

  • 7th Battery:  155 Parrott 10-pdr case shot.
  • 14th Battery: James patent 3.80-inch – 188 shell, 120 case shot, and 222 canister; and 650 20-pdr Parrott shells.

Clearly a battery posted to defend the nation’s capital got plenty of ammunition!

And next those of Schenkl and Tatham’s:


Two batteries reporting:

  • 14th Battery: 83 3-inch Schenkl shells and 45 3-inch Tatham’s canister.
  • 19th Battery: 28 3-inch Schenkl canister.

Finally, the small arms:


All seven of the “reporting” batteries listed some small arms on hand, some more than others:

  • 2nd Battery: 134 Army revolvers and 49 cavalry sabers.
  • 4th Battery: 24 cavalry sabers.
  • 7th Battery: 2 cavalry sabers.
  • 12th Battery: 14 horse artillery sabers.
  • 14th Battery: 16 cavalry sabers.
  • 16th Battery: 2 Army revolvers.
  • 19th Battery: 15 Army revolvers and 16 horse artillery sabers.

Other than the “everyone gets a revolver” in the 2nd Battery, we might consider this a “meager” allotment of sabers and pistols.

That concludes the lengthy summary of the Indiana batteries.  Keep in mind that a quarter of these batteries were in action at the end of December 1862 at Stones River.  And those batteries expended around 4,000 rounds between December 31 and January 2.  Not to mention the lost guns, equipment, horses, and lives in the battle.  What I am left wanting is a “before” and “after” accounting from those batteries of equipment.  Such would offer a measure, on paper, of the violence seen at stones River.

Fortification Friday: How to build a bastion fort… step by step

In the last installment on this series, we read that Mahan rated the bastion fort as satisfying “more fully the conditions of a good defense.”  And his lesson plans to the cadets placed emphasis on the characteristics of this type of fortification.  His lesson continued by describing the theory of the bastion fort’s layout with a bit of practical twist added:

The bastion of a fort may consist of a polygon of any number of sides; but for field forts, the square and the pentagon are generally preferred, owning to the labor and construction.  To plan a work of this kind, a square [or] pentagon is laid out, and the sides bisected by perpendiculars; a distance of one eighth of the side is set off on the perpendiculars in the square, or one-seventh in the pentagon; from the angular points of the [polygon], lines are drawn through the points thus set off; these lines give the direction of the lines of defense; from the salient of the polygon distance, equal to two-sevenths the side, are set off on the direction of the line of defense, which give the faces; from the extremity of the faces, the flanks are drawn perpendicular to the lines of defense; the extremities of the flanks are connected by the curtains.

That, my readers, is in a nutshell how one builds a bastion fort.   Let’s “rock drill” this.

We first start by drawing a polygon, preferably a square or pentagon, over the area on which the fort will sit.  I’ll borrow one of Mahan’s diagrams to make this simple… and that being a square.  Those lines are in red below:


As with last week, this is a partial diagram, with the dashed blue lines indicating the continuation.  However this does serve a point – the practice for building any bastion, regardless if detached or enclosed, are the same. These are called the exterior sides.  Notice this incorporates the “line of defense” as we defined in the discussion of fort traces.

Let me also point out, the square or pentagon or other polygon drawn at this step will contain all of the area that the engineer wished to defend.  This is important.  If some undesirable terrain feature, such as a steep slope, existed, the engineer had to adjust the polygon, and thus the exterior sides, to exclude.  Yes, you’d not want a creek cutting through your square at this point in the design.

In a real situation, we’d measure the length of the exterior side, as that factors into the next steps taken.  Mahan suggested a maximum of 250 yards for this length.  But for now, allow me to construct this without a set measure.  We’ll get into the math soon enough!

Next, draw lines perpendicular to those exterior sides:


Notice I’ve shifted the exterior sides to light blue and highlighted these new lines in red… I’ll stick to that convention through this lesson.

Next, walk down the perpendicular line, from the intersection of the perpendicular and the exterior line, the specified distance:


For a square, that distance is ⅛, and for a pentagon it is a seventh. From that point on the perpendicular, we draw a line back to the endpoints of the respective exterior line:


For clarity, I’ve only drawn two of those intersecting lines here.

Next mark off a distance equal to two-sevenths of the exterior side on the intersecting line:


This defines the face of the bastion – both in length and orientation.

From the interior terminus of the face, we draw a line that will intersect the opposite intersecting line at a right angle:


This defines the flank of the bastion.  And it is important that the line of the flank cross that opposite line at a right angle.  Otherwise it would not offer coverage of the opposite face.

Next we connect the two flanks:


This is the curtain wall.  When the curtain is drawn for all respective sides, the fort becomes enclosed.

Now this is all well and good if you are going out to build a fort in the backyard… though perhaps too elaborate for a play-date with the kids.  Of what value is this to us today?  I’d submit this places us within the planning cycle for any 150-year-old fortification.  In other words, this tells us how “they” would have approached this operation.

Let’s go one step further.  We often read reports from primary sources rating defenses as “good” or “faulty.”  Applying the method above to the works offer us the ability to quantify that.  We can reverse engineer, to some degree, in order to derive a more exact identification of “superior” or the “faulty” elements of the works.  Not only does that help us interpret the earthworks extant on the ground (or only known by way of maps), it also tells us something of the individual providing the observation.  Yes, we can actually rate the guy making the rating – was he heeding the lessons of Mahan or not?

(Citations from Dennis Hart Mahan, A Treatise on Field Fortifications, New York: John Wiley, 1852, page 14.)

November 24, 1861: The day the Potomac ran red with blood at Lowe’s Island

On November 27, 1861, a note from John Hawkshurst, a Virginia civilian and unionist, arrived at Brigadier-General George McCall’s headquarters at Camp Pierpoint, Virginia.  The note read:

The following is a list of the citizens that attacked four of our men on Lowe’s Island, killing two of them, and stripped and left them so that the hogs ate them: Dr. William B. Day, Dr. John Day, Thomas Carper, John Coleman, Gilson Jenkins, Samuel Jenkins, Thomas Coleman (who now has one of the pistols taken at that time), James Farr, Philip Carper, James Carper and Stephen Farr. They are all residents about Dranesville. This information was furnished by three of Mrs. Coleman’s negroes who came into Camp Griffin November 26, 1861.

And thus blood was shed at Lowe’s Island.  However, let me admit the date in my teasing title is a guess.  The fragmentary report gives no indication of the actual date.  The killing (and leaving for the hogs) of two soldiers happened sometime in November August of that year, and the message’s receipt at Camp Peirpoint just a few days prior to McCall’s report.

However, I find it appropriate to offer a speculative date for this incident since Lowe’s Island is in the news… and in the news specifically because of speculative Civil War history.  Yesterday the New York Times ran a story concerning a plaque at the Trump National Golf Course, pointing out the glaring inaccuracies.  Normally I don’t post about political topics.  But this particular subject sort of lands in my lap.  So I’ll attempt to step around the politics while pointing out the history amid the rhetoric.

You won’t find an HMDB entry for “The River of Blood.”  Back when I first noticed the plaque, probably around the time it was put in place (I think 2009 or 2010), it was my opinion the plaque did not measure up to the definition of “historical marker.”  And judging from the belated reaction to the plaque, it appears my judgement was fairly sound.  The text reads:

“The River of Blood”

Many great American soldiers, both of the North and South, died at this spot, “The Rapids”, on the Potomac River. The casualties were so great that the water would turn red and thus became known as “The River of Blood.”

It is my great honor to have preserved this important portion of the Potomac River!  – Donald John Trump.

You will find dozens of articles (some quoting Civil War authorities or written by such authorities) that are going to say “nothing” happened at the site during the Civil War.   I’ll give them some benefit of the doubt, maybe nothing of grand importance happened on the site of the golf course.   But the truth of the matter is somewhere between “River of Blood” and “nothing”… with the needle much closer to the nothing side of the scale.

The site of the golf course is Lowe’s Island, on the banks of the Potomac, here in Loudoun County (though very close to the county line).   The island is formed by an old chute of Sugarland Run.  What those of us from the Mississippi bottom lands would call a slough.  That channel passes between Lowe’s and the mainland, then empties into the Potomac just above Dam No. 2 and Seneca Falls.  The area may be familiar to readers, as it close to Rowser’s Ford.

Circling back to the 1861 incident, on November 26, Colonel George Bayard, 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry, led an expedition to the Dranesville area.  Bayard’s objective was to capture Confederate pickets known to be posted at the town.  This was somewhat a precursor to the Battle of Dranesville, which would occur the following month.  Bayard would succinctly report, on November 27, “We killed or captured all we saw.”  Among the names of those captured, Bayard offered many of the same listed in the note from Hawkshurst.  So either Bayard just cast a very wide net and happened to bring in the suspects, or he had in mind specific individuals when setting out on the mission.

But this was not the only “incident” that occurred on Lowe’s Island during the war.  As mentioned, General J.E.B. Stuart passed near the island as he struggled to cross in June 1863.  And that crossing point made the island an attractive staging area for both Federal and Confederate operations from time to time.  But the only other “action” that is documented occurred in late July 1863.  Confederate irregulars maintained a cache of stores and corralled livestock on Lowe’s Island.  Armed with that information, Major Ulysses Doubleday (brother of the general who is alleged to have invented baseball) lead a detachment of the 4th New York Heavy Artillery to clear the island.  Doubleday reported no casualties.  And his action freed Colonel Percy Wyndham to take the 1st New Jersey Cavalry through Dranesville on July 27

So there you have it… the “river of blood” at Lowe’s Island amounted to two soldiers, whom we don’t have names for, who were killed by some local citizens.  (UPDATE: Ron passed along some more information on thisThe soldiers were from the 34th New York.)  A far fetch from what is written on the plaque.

And that plaque?  Why are we making it news, some 154 years after the blood flowed on Lowe’s Island?  I think you can answer that question without much thought.  I’d simply say that when the “news” is something this stale, one has inclination to question the messenger as much as the message.

In his defense of the plaque, Trump gave something like a “my people talked to other people” response.  I will add that back when I first became aware of the plaque, my line of inquiry lead me to the names of two local historians who were said to have provided services to Trump’s business.  That does square with the narrative – Trump’s people discussed this with some local authority.  That authority provided the customer what he wanted to hear… and what would sound really nice on a plaque.  At a minimum, an authority who was unwilling to correct a mistaken appreciation for the facts.

And I think we need to keep that in mind on this issue. There are all sorts of folks out there selling a brand of “snake oil” that reads “history” on the bottle’s label.  It’s not hard, in Virginia, to concoct a story that is pleasing to the ears and the egos, given the rich history that appears on every corner.  Likewise, it is not hard to shuffle aside history where inconveniently in the way of some project.

That last part is why I object to the plaque.  Even if corrected for the historical inaccuracies, the plaque is like a dagger thrust.  Lowe’s Island was not preserved.  And the use of that verb on the plaque is a much larger miscarriage of fact than saying the Potomac ran red.

(Citations and sources: OR, Series I, Volume 5, Serial 5, pages 448-449; Series I, Volume 27, Serial 44, page 979; Series II, Volume 2, Serial 115, page 1286.)

Summary Statement: December 31, 1862 – Independent Illinois Batteries and “Others”

The 1st Regiment and 2nd Regiment Illinois Artillery offered some quirks in terms of weapons assigned or organizational assignments (particularly with the Thirteenth Corps being an evolving field organization).  In addition to those two regiments, Illinois offered a collection of independent batteries for service. And these batteries offer even more “headaches” from the perspective of administrative tracking.

For brevity, allow me to step around a detailed history of “how this came to be.”  As my line of march today is simply to present what was listed in the summary for December 31, 1862, I will contain conversations about lineage to the essentials.  (Someday… I really want to build an annotated index of artillery formations to aid tracking these… someday.)  For the scope of today’s post, here are the Illinois batteries that fell into that “outside the numbered regiments” category, as of December 1862:


Not a lot of artillery pieces, but batteries we need to identify.  By line, here is the breakdown:

  • Battery A, Third Artillery:  At Germantown, Tennessee (outside Memphis).  Six 6-pdr James 3.80-inch.  Follow the ball on this identification.  This was Captain Thomas M. Vaughn’s battery (sometimes Vaughan, but Vaughn appears on his service card), better known as the Springfield Independent Battery (entry below).  It was assigned to the District of Jackson, Thirteenth Corps in December 1862.  However, I think the location referencing Germantown was valid for the date of the return – July 1863 – when the battery was posted around Memphis.  Other portions of this battery’s summary raise questions, which we will discuss below.
  • Stoke’s [Stokes’] Battery:  No return. This was the Chicago Board of Trade Battery, commanded by Captain James Stokes.  The battery played an important role in the fighting at Stones River. We know from reports the battery had four 3-inch rifles and two James rifles in the battle.  Stokes supported the Pioneer Brigade on December 31, 1862.  The battery fired 1,450 rounds in the battle.
  • Springfield Battery: With the annotation “Entered as Co. A, 3rd Arty.”  I have no supporting documentation to explain why the battery would be designated as such.  Perhaps the intention was consolidate all the independent batteries in a new regiment, but the idea never got past Vaughn’s.
  • Mercantile Battery:  Properly, the Chicago Mercantile Independent Battery, or Captain Charles G. Cooley’s Independent Battery.  Date of receipt of its report was December 1864 – two years late!  Location of Chicago, Illinois is indicated.  The battery had been in Chicago until early November 1862.  They moved to Memphis that month and participated in Sherman’s expedition to Chickasaw Bayou.  The battery reported four 6-pdr field guns and two 3-inch Ordnance Rifles.
  • Elgin Battery:  Captain George W. Renwick’s Elgin Independent Battery.  Just mustered in the previous month, this battery was posted to the Department of Kentucky in December 1862.  No return posted.
  • Coggswell’s [Cogswell’s] Battery: Captain William Cogswell’s Independent Battery.  Originally Company A, 53rd Illinois Infantry.  Another late-posted return (June 1864) has this battery at Nashville, Tennessee.  That location is likely inferred due to the late report date.  Official records indicate Cogswell’s Battery was at Memphis, and part of the Thirteenth Corps’ Right Wing.   The battery reported four James rifles on hand.
  • Henshaw’s Battery:  Captain Edward Henshaw’s Independent Battery. No return posted.  This battery had just been mustered at the time of report.
  • 10th Illinois Cavalry:  Stores in charge, reported by a major.   The 10th was on duty in Missouri at the time.  On November 7, 1862, a detail of the 10th Illinois surrendered at Clark’s Mill, Missouri.  Among the weapons surrendered were two Woodruff Guns.  In fact, one might say the ineffectiveness of those guns, compared to conventional artillery (in that case lowly 6-pdrs, if I recall).  While no cannons or projectiles were carried in the summary, the 10th Cavalry had some implements on hand (though the return was not received until March 1864… slow mail).

That’s a lot to roll around.  But as you see, not a lot of cannons reported.  That makes the following snips easier to discuss… somewhat easier.  I say that as from the start there are questions with smoothbore ammunition:


The Springfield Battery, which indicated no smoothbores on hand, had 12-pdr howitzer ammunition – 72 shells, 42 case, and 50 canister.  The battery originally formed with a section of 12-pdr howitzers and apparently still had ammunition stocks left.

The Mercantile Battery had 308 shot, 252 case, and 252 canister for its 6-pdr field guns.

Moving to the rifled projectiles, first the Hotchkiss Patent:


Mercantile Battery had, in the 3-inch caliber (again, Hotchkiss) 160 shot, 40 canister, and 190 fuse shells.  Cogswell’s Battery reported 285 Hotchkiss shot for James 3.80-inch rifles. Continuing to the next page, the columns are entries for Hotchkiss (continued), Dyer’s, and James’ Patents:


The Springfield Battery had 180 Hotchkiss canister for James 3.80-inch rifles. The battery also reported 250 James patent 3.80-inch shot, 451 shell, and 30 canister.  Cogswell’s Battery also had James Patent projectiles – 25 shot, 350 shell, and 74 canister.

We see no entries for Parrot or Schenkl projectiles, but entries for Tatham’s pattern canister:


In the 3.80-inch caliber, the Springfield Battery had 36 on hand while Cogswell’s had 79. Lastly the small arms:


  •  Springfield Battery: 10 Horse artillery sabers.
  • Mercantile Battery: 30 Army revolvers and five horse artillery sabers.
  • Cogswell’s Battery: 13 Army revolvers, one Navy revolver, and two cavalry sabers.

One last note on the “others” listed here.  Looking specifically at the equipment reported by the 10th Illinois Cavalry, I find the “major” reported four sights for 6-pdr Wiard guns on hand, along with a few other implements specific to that caliber and make of weapon.  My first inclination is that the 10th Illinois was reporting the implements for Woodruff guns.  The closest weapons on the printed report, in terms of caliber, would be the 2.6-inch, or 6-pdr, Wiard gun.  Likewise, it may have been that in lieu of custom made Woodruff sights and sponges, the 10th was issued those made for the Wiards.

Regardless, that the 10th Illinois Cavalry, way out in remote southwestern Missouri, had to report these items (along with artilleryman’s haversacks, punches, and other artillery-specific equipment) speaks volumes for the tenacity and pure resiliency of those in the Ordnance Department!

Coffee Mill Guns? Or Woodruff Guns? What did Battery K, 1st Illinois tote on Grierson’s Raid?

Last week I offered a non-committal entry discussing the weapons assigned to Battery K, 1st Illinois:

Battery K: Paducah, Kentucky with ten Union Repeating Guns (or the Agar “coffee mill” gun).  This is intriguing, as we most identify the use of this weapon in the Eastern Theater.

With the length of the overall post covering the 1st Illinois, I didn’t wish to delve into interpretation of the entry.  The intent is to present the summaries “as is” from the start, with obvious corrections and questions offered.  From there, where the correction or question requires more discussion, offer that as a follow up.  Well… here’s a follow up!

First off, let us go back to the entry… or the “snip” … in question:


You might wish to click on the image above and open in Flickr to enlarge to see the fine details.  The line to follow across is 47.  The column in question is fourth from the right, or the first among the “Miscellaneous” sub-heading.  The column has a printed, not hand-written, name – “Union repeating gun.”  The summary indicates Battery K had ten of these on hand.


As mentioned in my original interpretation, the Union repeating gun was an invention of Wilson Agar (or Ager).  I have an affinity to the “campfire” name for the weapon – Coffee Mill Gun.  The name derives from the nature of the cranking mechanism used in this proto-machine gun:

While these machine gun type weapons are a bit out of my lane as they are not artillery “stuff.” So I am not claiming to be an expert on their design, manufacture, and use.  But as these are “ordnance,” I’ve run across a lot of interesting source references.  Over the years, the most interesting is the use of these Coffee Mill Guns in Loudoun County during the spring of 1862.  So while rare, the Coffee Mill Guns saw some use in the Eastern Theater.  Not counting the entry for Battery K, scant few accounts reference the use of these weapons in the western theater.  The only one that comes to mind is an account indicating the Federal riverine fleet received a few for use on gunboats.

Now this Battery K entry is not exclusive to just the December 1862 summary.  The summaries into 1863 report the same ten Union repeating guns.  In addition, if we expand the snip out a bit to look at columns for “unservicable” weapons (which rarely have any entries), we see the battery had ten more items tallied:


Again, you may wish to click and open in Flickr to see that next to last column.  If not, here’s a blow up of the header:


Second column from the right.  This one is a mix of hand-writing and printed – “Carriages & limbers for Union repeating guns.”

Now keep in mind the general process for getting the numbers in the columns.  The battery in the field would complete a return and send that to the Ordnance Department in Washington. The return was reviewed in Washington.  A clerk (or team of clerks, more likely) would extract the data for entry into a very large ledger.  That became the “summary.”  And let me stress again, that was the “quick and simple” explanation here.

Bottom line, when we apply that process, is that clerks back in Washington were trying to put numbers into a standard, very detailed, yet rigid entry form.  There was not a lot of room for “other” within the form’s columns.  Yes there are blank columns in which we see hand written column headers.  But for the most part, it seems the clerks sought to use the printed entry columns.  What we see here, I think is an attempt to adapt the printed columns to contend with some out of the ordinary data entry need.

In this case, the entry for Battery K puts us in front of a lot of questions.  Readers may recall that within a few months of the report (which was apparently filed in December 1862), Battery K had left Paducah, Kentucky for Memphis, Tennessee.  In April 1863 the battery was selected for a special mission.  Along with the 6th and 7th Illinois and 2nd Iowa Cavalry, Battery K was part of a raid led by (then) Colonel Benjamin Grierson (which you might have seen dramatized in a movie…).  And on that raid, the men of Battery K toted along a set (six, though some say four) of 2-pdr Woodruff light cannons.

The Woodruff gun is another thread that deserves a separate post (if not several).  Allow me to give the short version here for brevity.  James Woodruff of Quincy, Illinois came up with the idea for a very light artillery piece that could be pulled by men if the horses were disabled. The gun measured three feet in length and weighed just over 250 pounds.  The gun’s bore was 2 ⅛, and was intended to use canister (seven one ounce lead balls) or small caliber solid shot (the caliber closely matching 12-pdr grape-shot sizes).  Later in the war a solid projectile resembling a large mine-ball was produced for the Woodruff.  Cited range for the gun was 700 yards.

The Greenleaf Foundry in Quincy made six of these guns for local defense.  The Ordnance Department, under some high level political pressure, ordered thirty, complete with carriages and limbers.  Assuming that was the full production run, these weapons end up referenced in a surprising number of locations.  Aside from use on Grierson’s Raid, the weapons are mentioned in use around Memphis, and still later in Missouri at Pilot Knob.

If you are looking for more information on the Woodruff, there is a lengthy, but now somewhat dated, article on the weapon in the May 1973 issue of Civil War Times.  The whole of which is posted on a website for The Turner Brigade, Missouri Volunteers:

So where does that have us with respect to Battery K?

Well let’s go with “Door Number 1”:  The battery had Coffee Mill Guns at Paducah, then were issued Woodruff Guns sometime in the winter or spring of 1863, prior to Grierson’s Raid.  But I’d counter that the Ordnance Department kept listing Coffee Mill Guns well into 1863.  Why wouldn’t they have substituted a hand written column for the Woodruff Guns in order to ensure the integrity of the entry?

OK, “Door Number 2”: Battery K had both Coffee Mill Guns and Woodruff Guns through the reporting period, but only the machine guns were tallied.  Well, that might sound plausible.  But such would require more men than Battery K was authorized.

Now “Door Number 3”:  Battery K had Woodruff Guns at Paducah.  The clerk performing the entries didn’t find an easy place to put the tallies.  Perhaps he was confused as to the nomenclature.  At any rate, the tally of ten weapons in the “Union repeating gun” column are actually “Woodruff Guns.”  Likewise, lacking a column to indicate a quantity of non-standard carriages and limbers, the clerk used the repeating gun’s unservicable column.

My thinking is we have a case of Number 3.  All of this, of course, brings the observation that all these entries in the summaries need be taken with a grain of salt.  And such is why I offer “as is” to be used in conjunction with other sources.

One last note on Battery K, as they were certainly not just a collection of cannons (or machine guns) and equipment.  Captain Jason B. Smith organized and commanded the battery.  Smith was born in South Carolina in 1805, but his family moved west during his teenage years.  Pre-war records indicate he lived in Pope and Johnson Counties, in the southern part of Illinois.  He was a blacksmith and a preacher – two avocations that some would argue go together… and perhaps two professions that provide a good skill-set for a battery commander in war.

Fortification Friday: Bastion Forts are the preferred, yet most complex simple “intrenchements”

We’ve heard Dennis Hart Mahan’s lessons on simple “intrenchments” and thus far covered open works and closed works.  Of the latter, the subset included redoubts, star forts, and bastion forts.  The last of those three is, considering the diagram offered to illustrate, somewhat where we started:


I’ve traced the bastion fort’s plan in blue for clarity.  Mahan’s textbook diagram left out the third bastion of this plan, so I’ve added dashed lines where the walls would extend further.  From there you’ll have to use your imagination.  Shouldn’t bee too hard, as this would be a common plan most have seen applied to forts of the era.

Mahan introduced the bastion fort with a hand of preference:

The bastion fort satisfies more fully the conditions of a good defense, than any other work; but, owning to the time and labor required for its construction, it should be applied only to sites of great importance, which demand the presence of troops during the operations of a campaign.

Before we go too much further, let’s go back and note what a bastion was, formally speaking.   We saw the term used as an alternate label for the lunette.  A bastion, be it the detached variety (which I’ll call a lunette for better distinction) or an “attached” specimen as part of a bastion fort, includes two faces and two flanks, thus including a salient angle.

And, as with all these fixtures in the fortifications, there were variations of bastions to describe… and denominate.  We’ve mentioned lunettes as detached bastions.   Beyond that, there is reference to empty bastions, full bastions, flat bastions, demi-bastions, and tower bastions.

Empty bastions were constructed so that the interior of the bastion was at the same level of the interior of the larger fortification.  Full bastions, on the other hand, had elevated interiors.   One immediate application for a full bastion was to afford artillery a clear, elevated line of fire out of the fortification.

Off hand, we identify bastions as a feature for the corners of fortifications.  But, as mentioned in the discussion of redoubts, sometimes a bastion was needed along the side of a fortification.  This was known as a flat bastion.  I remember it as a bastion attached to the “flats” of the fortification plan.

Demi-bastions, or half-bastions, are somewhat as the name implies – a plan where one side of the bastion contains a face and flank, while the other side is just a straight line back to the base line of the fortification.  Somewhat asymmetrical, yes.  But more common than one might believe as half-bastions allowed engineers better adjustments to local conditions.  However, I would point out that Mahan didn’t recommend these half solutions.

And tower bastions?  Originally this term applied to masonry fortifications, specifically a structure built that included gun embrasures and interior galleries.  But sometimes the term was applied to earthen works where the bastion had elaborate gun positions, traverses, and bombproofs added.  It’s not technically “correct” but who am I to argue with a 150 year old account?

So, you see the engineer had a lot of choices in regard to bastions.  And these being Mahan’s preferred type of “intrenchment,” there was a great deal of emphasis placed on learning how to plan a bastion fort.  We’ll walk through that in detail in future posts.  The larger point, making this a good place to pause in the discussion, is that Mahan impressed upon his students the favorable aspects of the bastion fort.  He followed that up with deliberate instructions for building those bastion forts correctly.  His students were not a bunch of “nobody” cadets, but rather the fellows that ended up in charge of “the show.”  Little wonder we see a lot of bastions built from 1861 to 1865.

(Citation from Dennis Hart Mahan, A Treatise on Field Fortifications, New York: John Wiley, 1852, page 14.)